The Vital Impact of Social Work in Cancer Care
Social Work in Cancer Care
National Social Work Month raises the opportunity to acknowledge the profound and empowering impact that social workers have on our society. Social workers also play a vital role in cancer care. Oncology social workers assist in emotional support of an individual with cancer including but not limited to navigating resources, counseling and coping with a diagnosis (Marks, 2022). Understanding the complex nature of a chronic disease and its implications on the various aspects of one’s life is necessary for the social workers to provide the most effective support. Resources such as support groups and helplines aid in working through the complexities of chronic disease. Cancer Support Community (CSC) provides specialized navigation via the Cancer Support Helpline. This helpline caters to individual experiences and needs and develops customized navigation from resource specialists and licensed social workers who are equipped with rigorous knowledge and extensive experience in cancer care available 5 days a week for patient needs (Cancer Support Community, 2023). Having direct access to a social worker or specialist can be monumental for someone with cancer to validate and navigate the wide range of emotions that come following a cancer diagnosis. Along with emotional support, the helpline can help connect individuals further with local and national resources that address different topics and challenges specific to the individual. National Social Work Month is the optimal opportunity to shine light on admirable professionals who make a difference not only in the month of March, but every month.
Mental Health in Social Workers
Although social workers have a meaningful role in society, the career can be challenging and exhausting with high professional burn out. The commendable profession of social work is based on the noble principles of providing and giving to others, this combines with the realities of working with trauma, crises and stressful situations that are emotionally and physically taxing. Shouldering the intense emotions and complex trauma of patients put human service workers, such as social workers, at increased risk of burnout. Burnout of human service workers directly affects the ability to care for one’s own mental and physical health (Dima, 2021). Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic only further exacerbated the high case load and risk of burnout for social workers. Burnout can manifest in many forms, including depression, anxiety, and other mental health illnesses (Web Md, 2021).
A Canadian study has investigated the implications of social work on rates of depression, anxiety, and PTSD in social workers. The biggest finding was the rate of depression experienced by the study participants. The study found that depression was reported among 40.7% of the participants— a figure considerably higher than the general depression rate of 7-12% in Canada. Additionally, the study found 15% of participants suffered from anxiety and 20.8% experienced PTSD (Straussner, 2018). These substantial statistics emphasize the vulnerability of social workers to poor mental health outcomes and highlight the need for proactive solutions.
Implementing Effective Solutions
Finding dynamic and preventative solutions to decrease the high case load will increase workflow and alleviate some of the pressure residing in the day-to-day responsibilities of a social worker. Paperwork burden is a large barrier for social work face to face connection with those in need and administering assessments and screening measures is a key responsibility for social workers. Streamlining this process can decrease the manual burden and subsequently mitigate some of the stresses of the job. Implementing digital screening platforms is one way to forgo the outdated process of manual administering, logging and storing data and frees up more time for social workers to manage their other tasks as well as practice self-care. Similarly, digitizing assessments and case notes is one possibility for future innovation and improvement in the social work field, hopefully leading to better mental health outcomes. The pivotal impact of social work pleads the need to address the health and wellbeing of social workers in order to ensure the longevity of such a needed profession. Understanding the responsibilities of working as a social worker is fundamental to acknowledge their impact and advocate for their professional and personal wellbeing moving forward.
“Cancer Support Helpline.” Cancer Support Community, https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/cancer-support-helpline.
Dima, Gabriela, Luiza Meseșan Schmitz, and Marinela-Cristina Șimon. “Job Stress and Burnout among Social Workers in the VUCA World of COVID-19 Pandemic.” Sustainability 13.13 (2021): 7109. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/su13137109.
Marks, Julie. “Oncology Social Workers: Overview, Role, Skills.” Verywell Health, Verywell Health, 6 July 2022, https://www.verywellhealth.com/oncology-social-workers-5Oncology Social Workers: Overview, Role, Skills.” Verywell Health, Verywell Health, 6 July 2022, https://www.verywellhealth.com/oncology-social-workers-5Oncology Social Workers: Overview, Role, Skills.” Verywell Health, Verywell Health, 6 July 2022, https://www.verywellhealth.com/oncology-social-workers-5271747#citation-1.
Straussner SLA, Senreich E, Steen JT. Wounded Healers: A Multistate Study of Licensed Social Workers’ Behavioral Health Problems. Soc Work. 2018 Apr 1;63(2):125-133. doi: 10.1093/sw/swy012. PMID: 29425335; PMCID: PMC6042294.
“Work Burnout: How It Affects Your Mental Health.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-to-know-about-work-burnout.